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The August riots in England study

Smashed glass
Published: November 2011

Aim

We wanted to understand the motivations of young people involved in or affected by the riots. We analysed how young people's motivations were shaped by a dramatic and unfamiliar set of circumstances and while examining the background to the riots, we focussed principally on the moral and practical decisions made.

Findings

Young people got involved for the following reasons:

  • Something exciting to do: the riots were seen as an exciting event – a day like no other – described in terms of a wild party or “like a rave”
  • The opportunity to get free stuff – things people wouldn’t otherwise be able to have 
  • A chance to get back at police. In some parts of London, the Mark Duggan case was described as the origin of the riots and seen as an example of a lack of police respect for young black people. The attitude and behaviour of the police locally was consistently cited as a trigger outside as well as within London.

There were some situational factors that could either “nudge” young people into getting involved or “tug” them away from involvement:

  • Group processes
  • A rapid flow of information
  • Locality
  • What the young person was doing beforehand
  • What friends and peers were doing
  • What authority figures were doing

Methodology

  • In depth interviews and small discussions groups with young people in 5 areas of the country that were affected by the riots
  • In depth interviews with young people in prisons who have been convicted of offences related to the riots
  • Discussion groups with young people in 2 areas of the country unaffected by the riots
  • Discussion groups with community stakeholders and local residents.

Read the report